Korean War Legacy Project

Roy Cameron


Roy Cameron enlisted for the Army Reserves in 1949 after high school and was called up to active duty in 1950 due to the Korean War.  His MOS was a Battalion Soil Engineer, so he built bridges, roads, and headquarters for his military commanders.  Using his GI Bill, Roy Cameron earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in addition to a PhD.  His education and military service helped him get a job for NASA where he published 125 articles.

Video Clips

The Job of Battalion Soil Engineers

Since Roy Cameron was working on his Bachelors Degree in soil science, he was assigned to the Battalion Soil Engineers where he built roads and bridges for the troops. While traveling in his Jeep near Pusan, he as thousands of refugees coming from the North in order to escape war.

Tags: Busan,Food,Front lines,North Koreans,Physical destruction

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Death Near Taegu and PTSD

Roy Cameron was traveling a road near Taegu and Taejon when they were ambushed. Two soldiers were killed and he had to take their bodies back to Grave Registration, so seeing those bodies has given Roy Cameron PTSD.

Tags: Daegu,Daejeon,Depression,Front lines,Physical destruction

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Video Transcript

00:00:00          [Beginning of Recorded Material]

Roy Cameron: My mother got a job teaching on an island – Anderson Island, out in the bay. So I lived there for seven years

Interviewer:     So what high school did you graduate?

Roy Cameron: Tacoma

Interviewer:     Tacoma High School. When was it?

Roy Cameron: Tacoma, Lincoln High School in 1947

Interviewer:     Tacoma, Lincoln

Roy Cameron: So I was going to school there during the war years

Interviewer:     So what did you do after the graduation?


Roy Cameron: I went to college at University of Washington and because I had not taken a language, I could not continue, so I went to Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, and took a course in soil science. I majored in soil science.

Interviewer:     So you mean University of Washington in Tacoma?

Roy Cameron: Seattle


Interviewer:     Seattle. Wow, that’s a nice school

Roy Cameron: Oh yes

Interviewer:     So you did soil?

Roy Cameron: Soil science at Washington State University in Pullman.

Interviewer:     At Pullman?

Roy Cameron: Yep

Interviewer:     So you did good job in high school study?

Roy Cameron: Yeah

Interviewer:     You had good grades

Roy Cameron: Yes

Interviewer:     Very nice

Roy Cameron: We sort of had poor teachers, though. Because of the war we couldn’t get the best teachers.


Interviewer:     But did you like what you studied? Soil science

Roy Cameron: Oh yes, I liked that very much. In fact it carried on throughout my scientific career

Interviewer:     Mhmm. And so did you know anything about Korea before?

Roy Cameron: No. I had joined a reserve unit in the Fall of 1949 and the reserve unit was called up in August 1950.


It was activated. It consisted mainly of World War II veterans who cursed and swore and resented being called up for active-duty. And then I had basic training camp Carson

Interviewer:     Did you enlist or were you drafted?

Roy Cameron: I enlisted

Interviewer:     Why?

Roy Cameron: It was a little additional money and I was interested in the military

Interviewer:     When did you enlist?

Roy Cameron: The Fall of 1949


Interviewer:     Where did you go to basic military?

Roy Cameron: Camp Carson, later called Fort Carson, Colorado

Interviewer:     Oh Fort Carson Colorado. And you were in the University, why did you quit the University?

Roy Cameron: Because the unit I was in was activated. I needed one semester to finish my degree.


I petitioned to finish the degree and the letter came back stamped no deferments at this time because the unit I was in was activated.

Interviewer:     Oh so they were all about to be drafted and before they were drafted you enlisted

Roy Cameron: I wasn’t drafted, I enlisted

Interviewer:     How was it? I mean, you must have felt bad about that

Roy Cameron: I did. I really resented it, but because of the Korean service everything worked out well


Interviewer:     Really? So tell me about it. You received the basic military training Fort Carson, Colorado. What was your specialty?

Roy Cameron: Well I had no specialty at basic training. They assigned me an MOS  Bugler

Interviewer:     MOS

Roy Cameron: But when I got to Korea, because of the soil science, they made me the battalion soils engineer

Interviewer:     So when did you leave for Korea from where?


Roy Cameron: I left from San Francisco in the winter of 1950, arriving in November in Busan and we were told because of the combative situation they didn’t need engineers, they needed infantry. So turn in your carbines and get M1s

Interviewer:     So you become a rifle man?


Roy Cameron: Yeah, but I was a very fortunate rifle man because as the soils engineer I was given a jeep

Interviewer:     What does the military do in terms of soil science during the war? I mean what has anything to do with the soil science? Tell me about it

Roy Cameron: Well soils engineering is not really related to soil science. Soils engineer deals more with construction. Road beds, railroad beds, bridges, removal of demolished and disabled vehicles.


Interviewer:     Did your knowledge of the soil science help serving that?

Roy Cameron: Yes, yes it did because some of the things were similar

Interviewer:     Tell me about it. Give me the details. How similar and why was it helpful for you to become a soil engineer?


Roy Cameron: Well, for example, mechanical analysis deals with the presentation of soil, sand silt and clay and gravel. And of course this information is also needed in road construction, so that shows you a similarity

Interviewer:     So you started soil science to serve as a rifle man during the Korean War

Roy Cameron: Yeah

Interviewer:     What a destiny, huh? How did you like Korea when you arrived in Busan? How was the scene in Busan?


Roy Cameron: Well I didn’t stay very long in Busan

Interviewer:     But overall in Korea how was it?

Roy Cameron: Terrible

Interviewer:     Tell me about it, the detail

Roy Cameron: Well, there was much distraction and refugees. I really felt sorry for the colonies of refugees that were coming down from the north. It was pathetic, really pathetic.


When I was out in the jeep, one of my duties was to go on patrol for a new headquarters. I would stop by the side of the road to eat, here are these little kids starving with swollen bellies and scabby faces.


We would share our food with them. These kids would just come out of nowhere. I could tell you a funny story. As I mentioned, I had a jeep.


So I was given the responsibility of leading patrols to find new headquarters to build a place for our battalion. So this one day we were searching for headquarters and we came upon this isolated building in a field and we were very cautious. We had our rifles there waiting because we had been ambushed previously. And all of a sudden there was a loud bell ringing and the doors open and these little kids came out in black uniforms.


So they’re obviously young students. So most of them ran towards the village across the street and I guess the professors from the school, several of the kids ran back in, so he came out and smiled and waved at us. We smiled and waved back.


Several of the kids wanted to be our valets, they said they’d shine our shoes and take care of our uniforms and all they wanted was a small stipend and some food. We told them we were just visiting and had to leave, so we went back to our company Commander and told him what had happened and said we didn’t take this building because it was occupied and he said well –

Interviewer:     Occupied by whom?


Roy Cameron: The students. He said, well I think you made the right decision, well go out the next morning and see what you can find. So we went out the next morning and found an abandoned building in that village, so that took care of that situation.

Interviewer: What was your unit? What division?

Roy Cameron: Eighth Army, 4 53rd Engineers


Interviewer:     So especially because your task was to find a place and build headquarters for the military so that you are going around, there was it? Was it in the Seoul area or where was it?

Roy Cameron: No no it was south of that. Our unit was going up the Red Diamond highway.

Interviewer:     I don’t know. Do you remember the –


Roy Cameron: Daegu

Interviewer:     Daegu?

Roy Cameron: Yeah and Daejeon. And north of Daejeon and we were in a night convoy, got ambushed and two of our men were killed. Several were wounded. And it was my responsibility –

Interviewer:     When was it? 1950 December?

Roy Cameron: Spring

Interviewer:     51?


Roy Cameron: Yes. Because I had a jeep it was my responsibility to take the bodies to grave registration in Busan. And a company commander went along because he wanted to be sure the record was straight

Interviewer:     Did you drive by yourself or did you have a driver?

Roy Cameron: I drove by myself and with the company commander. And when we arrived at grave registration, there was column after column of frozen corpses stacked five high.


And a truck came with more frozen corpses and unloaded them. And two Koreans, one on either end unloaded the corpses and carried them out and stack them up.


Interviewer:     Was it American soldiers?

Roy Cameron: I don’t know. I think they were primarily Americans.

Interviewer:     Do you have a PTSD?

Roy Cameron: Yes, moderate rating

Interviewer:     Is that because of those scenes that you saw, that you have nightmare and such?

Roy Cameron: Yeah, and I have a little souvenir here. Well I’ve got several souvenirs.


Interviewer:     Well my question hasn’t ended yet. So I have more questions to ask you.

Roy Cameron: Okay

Interviewer:     But you can show us. What is it?

Roy Cameron: We threw many of these.


Interviewer:     I hope that is empty, right?

Roy Cameron: Yes

Interviewer:     Show us again. Hold it. That’s a grenade?

Roy Cameron: Yes, pineapple style

Interviewer:     Pineapple style? And you threw so many of those?

Roy Cameron: Oh yes

Interviewer:     And what else?


Roy Cameron: There was a long line of Chinese prisoners that came by one day and I traded cigarettes for one of their hats.

Interviewer:     So there was a Chinese soldier arrested?

Roy Cameron: No it was a group of Chinese soldiers that they had taken prisoner and they were marching with a tank in charge American soldiers on the side


Interviewer:     Hold it up, show it to me, good good. So you exchanged it? With your cigarette?

Roy Cameron: Yes. I thought it was a good gift.

Interviewer:     That’s a real one?

Roy Cameron: Yes

Interviewer:     Wow

Roy Cameron: Then on another occasion we were on patrol, and we didn’t finish our patrol. So  we found an army unit and stayed there that night.


That night there was a sharp mortar barrage and the next morning the frozen ground was littered with the use Chinese surrender passes

Interviewer:     Safe conduct pass. Right? Yes I’ve seen many of those and your’s are a little bit different. Can you show the other side? Back? And it says why are you here, right?

Roy Cameron: That’s right

Interviewer:     Yeah, why are you here. Have you thought about it?

Roy Cameron: Sure


Interviewer:     Why? What did you think? What was your conclusion? Why were you there?

Roy Cameron: Well to defend South Korea and to defend our country. We were against communism. And I have another souvenir.


North Korean money taken from a North Korea observer.

Interviewer:     Mhmm. Yep. I’ll take pictures of those later.

Roy Cameron: Okay

Interviewer:     Where did you go from there? Did you go north from Daejeon and Daegu?

Roy Cameron: Yes we went North. Our responsibility, we were told, was to rebuild a bridge on the Han River. So we went up that direction.


Interviewer:     What was your mission? I mean what was your role?

Roy Cameron: My role was to be the soils engineer

Interviewer:     Do you remember what you did? There to rebuild the Han River bridge?

Roy Cameron: No

Interviewer:     What did you do?

Roy Cameron: I had a jeep accident and landed upright frozen rice patch. They sent me down to the Red Cross hospital in Busan


Interviewer:     When was it?

Roy Cameron: This was in late Spring

Interviewer:     Late Spring. So how did it happen?

Roy Cameron: It happened because, I didn’t understand at the time, but the diagnosis down in the Busan hospital was a fever and bronchitis. So obviously I was not functioning properly.


Interviewer:     So you may have kind of dozed and you lost –

Roy Cameron: Yeah I lost control, but in the hospital at Busan I met a very kindly Italian Doctor Who said son you don’t belong here I’m going to get you out of here. So he sent me to the hospital to recover in Tokyo. There I was no longer declared fit for field duty


Interviewer:     Oh, so that was late spring?

Roy Cameron: Yes

Interviewer:     1951?

Roy Cameron: Yes

Interviewer:     The injury must have been really serious?

Roy Cameron: No I had no wounds

Interviewer:     Not at all?

Roy Cameron: No. I was just shook up. But they sent me there because they wanted to make sure I had no wounds.


Interviewer:     You are lucky.

Roy Cameron: I am lucky. So when they sent me to Japan I was put in a Turkish ward, and that was quite an experience. And they forgot about me, and I was bored, and one day I said well is there something I can do? And they said have you had any chemistry? I said oh yes. They said how would you like to work in the bio chemistry lab? I said, oh fine.

Interviewer:     In Japan?


Roy Cameron: In Japan. 81 67th Army hospital

Interviewer:     81?

Roy Cameron: 67th

Interviewer:     67 Amy

Roy Cameron: Hospital. At that time it was the three 61st station, but it became the 8167. So I liked that job. In the summer of 1951, they had the epidemic hemorrhagic fever and so the soldiers started coming in, they started coming in for epidemic hemorrhagic fever.


And some of them, somehow it barbiturates, and they died. It was terrible.. I would visit them before they died and assisted them in the autopsies Before I left I became the NCO in charge of that lab and we got a commendation from the eight Army for our work on the epidemic hemorrhagic fever.


So that was nice. So time came up for reenlistment and I didn’t re-enlist. I was covered under the old World War II G.I. Bill, so I went back to school, I finished my –

Interviewer:     When did you leave Japan?

Roy Cameron: Summer of 52

Interviewer:     Mhmm. And you came back and what did you do?


Roy Cameron: I finished my Bachelors degree in soil science then I got a Masters degree and a PhD under the old World War II G.I. Bill.

Interviewer:     Wow

Roy Cameron: So everything worked out well for me

Interviewer:     So you have a PhD?

Roy Cameron: Yes

Interviewer:     After you got the PhD what did you do, did you teach or work in the –


Roy Cameron: No I found that there was a job in the lab at Pasadena, California. They wanted a desert soil microbiologist, and that’s what I had been studying. And they wanted this person to get soil samples from desert areas around the world and make soil tests for the Viking Mars lander life detection system


Interviewer:     What ? Could you repeat that?

Roy Cameron: Mars viking lander life detection system

Interviewer:     Wow

Roy Cameron: So they said, now you will be going to various desert areas around the world. I went to the Atacama, I went to the Australian Red Desert, Sahara, I went to the Chilean Desert and I finally ended up going to the Antarctic seven times. I spent almost 2 years of my life down there.


Interviewer:     That’s not desert

Roy Cameron: It’s a cold desert. Very cold desert. And there is some exposed land.

Interviewer:     And then finally you participated in making Mars viking lander life detection system?

Roy Cameron: I have the samples for the machines that we’re going to examine the soil


Interviewer:     That’s fantastic

Roy Cameron: Yeah it was interesting

Interviewer:     So you witnessed so much troubles and sufferings and tragedy in Korea, but right after you come back from it you continue on your study, you became the PhD and you participated in one of the most exciting projects?

Roy Cameron: Yeah 125 publications

Interviewer:     125 publications?

Roy Cameron: Oh and in Antarctica I met Dr. Wernher von Braun


Interviewer:     He is the rocket scientist? From Germany?

Roy Cameron: Yeah, worlds premiere rocket scientist

Interviewer:     So tell me about the story that you met him

Roy Cameron: Okay, there was a meeting with von Braun and those scientists who were not in the field.


And so I met him and because I had studied German in school to pass my PhD I greeted him and introduced myself and told him in German what I was doing, that I was working for NASA. And so, oh he was very interested in that. So of course he was more interested in man flight and I was involved in the unmanned flight, but I had a nice field trip with him. And I have a photograph with him with his arm around me and his autograph.


Interviewer:     That’s very nice

Roy Cameron: Yeah

Interviewer:     Von Braun?

Roy Cameron: Von Braun

Interviewer:     Wow. What was the most difficult thing during your service in the Korean War?

Roy Cameron: I think the most difficult thing was going to grave registration and seeing those stacks of corpses. Five deep with their dog tags on the outside.


Oh God. That sticks in my memory. But as a result of my service I’ve got a frozen right hand, I still have trouble with it and hemorrhoids from bouncing up and down in that jeep


Interviewer:     So you moved all around the peninsula? Where did you sleep and how did you eat? Tell me about those stories


Roy Cameron: Okay mostly because we were traveling we ate C-rations. Because I had a jeep, we could heat them up on the radiator, so we had warm food.

Interviewer:     Lucky you

Roy Cameron: Yeah

Interviewer:     Where did you sleep?

Roy Cameron: We slept in the sleeping bags or if we could we would try and find an encampment nearby and stay there.


If we were gone more than a day

Interviewer:     So in the sleeping bag you mean in the land or –

Roy Cameron: Yes right out in the open. There was another occasion that I remembered When there was refugees coming down and in the midst of refugees was eight men in white robes marching in formation.


So we got our rifles out, we were wondering what should we do. Should we defend ourselves, should we shoot or what?

Interviewer:     Were they refugees?

Roy Cameron: No. I’m sure they weren’t. Not eight man marching in formation mixed in with the refugees.

Interviewer:     But they were not in uniform?

Roy Cameron: No. White robes. So they looked straight tahead and they kept marching and we let them go by.


Interviewer:     Must have been dangerous

Roy Cameron: Yeah. Oh and on another occasion there was a Korean wedding going on

Interviewer:     Really? During the war?

Roy Cameron: Yeah

Interviewer:     Are you sure?

Roy Cameron: Yeah.  And there was singing and dancing, very entertaining. And overhead there was a dog fight going on. All of a sudden there was an explosion and parts of a plane rain down on us. Of course we heard later that the Russians were flying MiGs


Interviewer:     When? You’re talking about spring of 1951?

Roy Cameron: Yeah

Interviewer:     Dogfighting there?

Roy Cameron: Yeah

Interviewer:     Where was it?

Roy Cameron: Well that would have been north of Daegu, Daejeon


Interviewer:     It’s so funny that there was a traditional marriage going around. I cannot believe it.

Roy Cameron: Yeah, it was. With a dogfight up above.

Interviewer:     You should have taken a picture of that

Roy Cameron: I couldn’t get over it. All of the dancers and singers and everything. It was a very joyous occasion

Interviewer:     How much were you paid during your service in Korea?


Roy Cameron: Less than $100 a month. It wasn’t until I got to be a staff sergeant in Tokyo that I made $165 a month. So I don’t remember what the pay was in Korea. It was pretty small.

Interviewer:     What did you do with the money?

Roy Cameron: Well there was no place to spend it in Korea. I just saved it and I would spend it when I got to Japan. I didn’t smoke, so I always exchanged my cigarettes


Interviewer:     So you had more money to make?

Roy Cameron: Yeah and in Korea I would exchange the cigarettes for the other guys for Hershey bars, candy and things. Well I tried the cigarettes once and I thought gross. If I’m going to die, I’m going to find out when I missing.

Interviewer:     So when did you retire?

Roy Cameron: In 1995. And before that I worked as the environmental advisor for Indian tribe in Connecticut.


Interviewer:     So your life has been really successful

Roy Cameron: Yeah

Interviewer:     You’re rich enough to retire?

Roy Cameron: To retire, yeah

Interviewer:     Very nice

Roy Cameron: Yeah

Interviewer:     So let me ask this question. Have you been back to Korea?

Roy Cameron: No

Interviewer:     You don’t want to go?

Roy Cameron: No

Interviewer:     Why not?

Roy Cameron: Memories. But I know it’s changed. I’ve seen it in the book.


Interviewer:     What book? Reborn Korea?

Roy Cameron: Yes, Reborn Korea.  And I admire the people for their reconstruction and  compared to North Korea, which is a terrible place to live, Kim Jong-un. I mean it looks like a very wonderful country now.

Interviewer:     Yes, we were able to accomplish that, simultaneous democratization and economic development because you were there.


Roy Cameron: Yes

Interviewer:     And you witnessed such tragedy but now we, based on those, we are now the most substantive democracy in Asia and we are the 13th largest economy in the world

Roy Cameron: That’s wonderful

Interviewer:     Can you believe that?

Roy Cameron: No. I know the economy is doing very well.

Interviewer:     We are the only country among the OECD, Organization for Economic Corporation and Development, OACD is a wealthy country club.


And we are the only one who used to receive the aid from the United States and other countries, now we are offering aid to other countries.

Roy Cameron: That’s wonderful

Interviewer:     Isn’t that?

Roy Cameron: That is. That’s tremendous.

Interviewer:     But despite such an unprecedented out come out of the Korean War, the Republic of Korea now, why people used to say that the Korean war has been forgotten? Why is it?


Roy Cameron: Well there was not media or news coverage in the US, and when there was there was not very much interested. In fact, when I came back, there was no greeting or anything. My mother and my stepfather were there. In fact, when I talked to some people afterwards about being in Korea, one guy said, oh were you gone?

Interviewer:     So why there is no interest? Is that because Korea was miserable at the time?


Roy Cameron: Yes

Interviewer:     It was because it was Asia? Americans, the western people thought of people in Asia as primitives and things like that?

Roy Cameron: Well I guess they did, but I didn’t think that

Interviewer:     You didn’t think that?

Roy Cameron: No I was not brought up to believe that

Interviewer:     So that’s why it’s been forgotten?


Roy Cameron: Well as I said, I think there was not much media coverage, there was not much interest from the US people up for what was going on in Korea. It was too far away and it was too soon after World War II and they didn’t feel that it really affected them.

Interviewer:     But now I think it’s been changed, the perception.

Roy Cameron: Yes

Interviewer:     Yeah, why?

Roy Cameron: Well because of the progress of Korea and, as you mentioned, it has tremendous stature in the world.


I pray that that Kim Jong-un doesn’t do something crazy. That guy is nuts

Interviewer:     So what is the legacy of the Korean War and the Korean War veterans?

Roy Cameron: Well I think the legacy is we’re still forgotten.


There’s camaraderie among those that were in Korea, but other than that I don’t see much.

Interviewer:     Anything you want to leave to this interview?

Roy Cameron: Well, I appreciate the interview, but I didn’t look forward to it

Interviewer:     You didn’t?

Roy Cameron: No

Interviewer:     No. But why did you decide to come?


Roy Cameron: Because I thought that I should make a contribution to my experiences in Korea. Even though they weren’t all that monumental and I got out of there before they had that bloody hill fighting. I think God that I survived. In fact I prayed, please God let me get out of here in one piece.


Interviewer:     Yeah. It is important to have this witness about your experience during the Korean War for history and also for the education of our young children. I think you did right decision, so I think you made the right decision to come here and talk to us. This interview will be uploaded to the Internet so everybody from anywhere can see it.

Roy Cameron: Oh my

Interviewer:     Okay?

Roy Cameron: Okay

Interviewer:     Any other story or any other message you want to leave to this interview?


Roy Cameron: No I think I pretty much told you everything. I’m sure I forgot some things, but somethings are best forgotten.

Interviewer:     Yes. And again I want to thank you for your fight for the Korean Nation, who suffered from such tragedy. Now because of your sacrifice and your fight, that the Koreans are strong.

Roy Cameron: Yes, your welcome


Interviewer:     Thank you so much

Roy Cameron: You’re welcome

[End of Recorded Material]